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Photosensitive epilepsy seizure triggers

There are a number of things that could trigger a photosensitive seizure. Because people’s sensitivities are so individual, not everything will affect every person with photosensitive epilepsy. The following are some of the things that people ask us about:

Bicycle lights (red and white)

UK law says that these lights mustn’t flash at less than one or more than 4 flashes a second. Provided the lights comply with the law, they are unlikely to cause a problem.

Ceiling fans

Some ceiling fans can rotate at a fast speed. Looking at light through them could be a seizure trigger.

Christmas lights that flash

There is no UK law that covers the flash frequency of Christmas lights. It’s therefore possible that they could trigger a seizure.

Computer screens

Computer screens are unlikely to be a seizure trigger. However if there are flashing or flickering images, or some types of pattern on the screen, these could be a seizure trigger.

Flashing novelty badges

These can flash at any rate. It is therefore possible that they could be a seizure trigger.

Interactive whiteboards

Unless what is shown on an interactive whiteboard flashes or flickers, or has some types of pattern, they are unlikely to be a seizure trigger.

Light bulbs (any type)

These are only a possible seizure trigger if they are faulty. Otherwise, they shouldn’t cause a problem.

Patterns

These are some examples of patterns that could be seizure triggers:

  • High contrast patterns such as black and white stripes
  • Striped or patterned materials and walls
  • Patterns in some television programmes, video or electronic games
  • A moving escalator

Strobe lights

We have been unable to find any current official guidance on the recommended flash rate of strobe lights. However, it is possible that they could be a seizure trigger.

The American Epilepsy Foundation’s professional advisory board recommends that:

  • The flash rate be kept to under 2 hertz with breaks every so often between flashes
  • Flashing lights should be placed at a distance from each other and set to flash together at the same time to avoid an increase in the number of individual flashes

The word hertz refers to something that happens in a second. For example, it can mean the number of times something flashes or flickers in 1 second.

Sunbeds

These may trigger a seizure if the tubes flicker. Otherwise, they shouldn't cause a problem.

Sunlight

Looking directly at certain patterns caused by sunlight could be a seizure trigger for some people. Examples of these situations are:

  • Sunlight through slatted blinds
  • Sunlight through trees, viewed from a moving vehicle
  • Sunlight reflected off moving water or off snow
  • Sunlight through moving leaves
  • Sunlight through railings, as you move past them

TV screens

Modern TV screens don’t flicker so are unlikely to be a seizure trigger for most people. However, if a programme shows images that flash or flicker, these could be a seizure trigger for some people.

Wind turbines

Large wind turbines rotate at a rate that is unlikely to trigger a seizure. Smaller turbines can rotate at a faster rate. When these smaller turbines create a shadow and/or flicker effect with the sun, they could be a seizure trigger.

Useful information

If you are concerned about flashing artificial lights, you can complain to your local council. They should consider complaints about ‘nuisance lights’, but they may not take account of someone’s photosensitive epilepsy. This is because they only have to consider how the nuisance affects the ‘average person’, not people with ‘rare sensitivities.’

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website or contact our Epilepsy Action freephone Helpline on 0808 800 5050.

Code: 
F157.05

This information has been produced under the terms of Epilepsy Action's information quality standards.

  • Updated June 2018
    To be reviewed June 2021

Comments: read the 7 comments or add yours

Comments

HMGov “Get ready for Brexit driving” twitter advert, opens then starts with loads of flashing, moving zigzag arrows across the screen. This is gobsmackingly stupid for people with PS epilepsy.
I can only assume that the rigorous rules about epilepsy, seizures and driving no longer apply after 31st Oct.

Submitted by Malcolm Thomas

I'm not a ps epilpitic
Recently I went into my local Wilkinson store to buy new light bulbs .
They had two flashing displays of bulbs.
I stood Infront of the light bulbs trying to work out which bulbs I needed for so long I came away with a headache.

I needed a daylight bulb for my lamp that I do my crafts by which was a large screw

Then a tiny screw bulb sift light for my bedside lamp.

I did mention it to the manager about the flashing bulbs his answer was it was only supposed to flash off after people leave the area but it didn't.
It was consently coming on & off .

Not good for ps epilpitic, people with migraines or even possibly Autism

So just beware anyone that shops in Wilkinson's & your buying light bulbs

Submitted by Anna A Hradsky

Hi,
My workplace has recently put up these lights that move quickly but not strobe they give me a headache but I can’t help but look at them what do i do?
Thank you
Gemma

Submitted by Gemma

Hi Gemma

That sounds difficult for you. As you will have seen from our information about photosensitive epilepsy, there are guidelines about using lights with different flicker rates., that could trigger seizures.

We don’t know about triggering headaches, but it is generally good practice not to have lights that could cause someone to feel unwell. It’s important you speak to your employers to let them know about your discomfort, as they are responsible for your health and safety. They may be able to make the lights less visible to you. And if other people in your workplace have similar problems, they might want to tell of their concerns too.

Hope you get it sorted soon.

Regards

Kathy  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Kathy - Epileps...

Hi Gemma

That sounds difficult for you. As you will have seen from our information about photosensitive epilepsy, there are guidelines about using lights with different flicker rates., that could trigger seizures.

We don’t know about triggering headaches, but it is generally good practice not to have lights that could cause someone to feel unwell. It’s important you speak to your employers to let them know about your discomfort, as they are responsible for your health and safety. They may be able to make the lights less visible to you. And if other people in your workplace have similar problems, they might want to tell of their concerns too.

Hope you get it sorted soon.

Regards

Kathy  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Kathy - Epileps...

I was diagnosed with epilepsy in the left temporal lobe region in 2008. Photosensitive epilepsy was not mentioned at all. Yet I seem to trigger absence seizures when I scroll through my phone to fast..... Is that even possible or have a I made a connection which isn't there.?
Scrolling slowly, everything is alright. When I'm trying to get to the bottom of the Web page faster and scroll faster... I have a seizure.
I don't have an appointment with the epilepsy specialists until the end of the month but thought I would enquire here, to see if anyone has had the same experience or can inform me of what this could all be about.. 😭

Submitted by Marlie Warrington

Hi Marlie,

We haven’t heard from other people who have had seizures triggered by scrolling quickly. But if you have noticed this several times then it is relevant for you

It is worth mentioning to your epilepsy specialist at the appointment and they may want to test you for photosensitive epilepsy.

Regards

Ashley  

Epilepsy Action Helpline Team

Submitted by Ashley - Epilep...

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